Friday, December 2, 2011

Overlooking the Obvious: Day Five at the UN Climate Change Forum

Sometimes it is the most obvious that is the easiest to overlook; maybe because the obvious is uncomfortable, inconvenient or ill-informed. My time at the UN Climate Change Forum in Durban, South Africa has helped me recognise this in a fresh way. The obvious doesn’t realize that it is supposed to wait until after the negotiations to make itself known.

Each morning I start my day at a briefing with our Canadian Ambassador for Climate Change and Lead Negotiator, Guy St-Jacques. He informs us of the latest developments and offers his assessment of the negotiations. After his assessment there is time for questions.

This morning he informed us that the negotiators had been working hard. They continued in dialogue until 10:30 p.m. last night trying to move the debate forward. I felt grateful for their commitment and prayed for their strength. Then he said; “There is a growing sense of urgency.”

I experienced that urgency today. While the daily programme indicated a number of meetings, most of them were closed to observers. “The conversations are getting tougher,” I reasoned.

This gave me time to reflect. I recalled the conversations I had with the guest house owners upon my arrival on Monday. “The rains have been terrible,” they informed me. “Stone walls have collapsed and fallen on vehicles. Last spring it was so dry, now this spring we have had more rain than usual.”  This assessment was confirmed by the shuttle driver that evening.

I anticipated some reference to this obvious irony – unusual rains falling in Durban on the eve of the UN Climate Change Forum – where the talks have been identified for over a year as urgent. But the irony was never recognised, or at least never mentioned.

I was reminded of my friend who had reflected on the story of Noah and suggested that it was an indication that God would protect the earth from the unbridled evil of humanity. He further concluded that if we failed to properly care for the earth - God would. I had never thought of this biblical account that way.

After a fruitless day of trying to gain access to closed meetings I surrendered and took the shuttle to the guest house. As I climbed the hill to my lodging I remembered the morning briefing with Ambassador St-Jacques.  Following his summary, one of the Canadian observers asked a critical question: “With Minister Kent’s statement earlier this week, can you help us understand Canada’s commitment to the Kyoto Protocol?”

The kind Ambassador responded. “My mandate is to seek a suitable agreement,” he explained.  “Obviously final decisions are made at a higher level. Will Canada withdraw [from the Kyoto Protocol]?  .... We’ll have to wait and see.”

As the Ambassadors words echoed in my ears a blast of cold wind swirled around me. I looked up and saw the dark clouds filling the sky. “It looks like it is going to rain again,” I said to myself.

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